VI. Ecological Protection and Construction
The eco-environment in some parts of China has begun to improve after a long period of unswerving efforts.
-- Afforestation. The Chinese government has set a guideline focusing on ecological construction for the development of forestry, organized large-scale afforestation, strengthened the administration of forest resources, and initiated the compensation system for efforts made to achieve forest ecological efficiency. As a result, the total newly afforested area has reached over 6.67 million ha every year since 2002. In recent years, the total forest area and the amount of forest reserves have increased rapidly; the structures in terms of age of stand and the form of forest have become more rationalized, and the quality of forests is improving, achieving a historic turn from a downward to an upward trend. At present, the national forest acreage is 175 million ha; the forest cover, 18.21 percent; and forest reserves, 12.456 billion cu m. The State has given great attention to ecological forest construction. Since 1998, China has worked on projects to protect natural forest reserves, to reforest cultivated land, to build shelterbelts in northern, northeastern and northwestern China and in the Yangtze River basin, to control the sources of duststorms in the Beijing-Tianjin area, to build wild animal and plant reserves and other types of nature reserves, as well as fast-growing, high-yielding timber bases in some key areas. During the Tenth Five-Year Plan period, the natural forest protection project succeeded in securing eight million ha of forest for ecological benefits, enabling 93.33 million ha of forest resources to recover. The project to reforest cultivated land created 21.33 million ha of forests, among which 5.38 million ha were ecological forests transformed from cultivated farmland, 12 million ha were planted on barren hills and wasteland, and 1.33 million ha were created by closing off hillsides for afforestation. In addition, 6.67 million ha of land were covered in various ways by efforts to control the sources of duststorms in the Beijing-Tianjin area. The shelterbelt projects in northern, northeastern and northwestern China and in the Yangtze River basin as well as other key shelterbelt construction areas resulted in the reforestation of 3.41 million ha of land, and new greenery on 3.46 million ha of hillsides by closing them off for forest conservation.
-- The protection of pastures. In order to strengthen the eco-construction and planned management of grasslands, the strategic emphasis has been shifted from reaching economic goals to "giving equal importance to ecological, economic and social goals, with ecological goals receiving the priority." As a result, the vegetation coverage has effectively recovered and the eco-environment on the grasslands is improving. There is a continued increase in state investment in pasture protection and construction. From 2000 to 2005, over nine billion yuan was earmarked for this purpose from the central budget to support the projects of natural pasture vegetation recovery and construction, the building of pasture fences and forage grass seed bases, the halting of herding for vegetation recovery, and grassland eco-construction to control the duststorm sources threatening the Beijing-Tianjin area. These projects have brought about good ecological, economic and social results. By the end of 2005, the acreage of man-made grasslands had added up to 13 million ha, that of improved pasture to 14 million ha and that of fenced pasture to 33 million ha. Twenty percent of the pastures now practice grazing prohibition, grazing land recovery and designated rotation grazing.
-- Land protection, development and treatment. The Chinese government has set the protection of cultivated land as a basic national policy, and has implemented a strict policy for protecting cultivated land. The State has designated basic farmland conservation area as the key basis for grain security. Meanwhile, a land-use control system has been set up to strictly control the total amount and percentage of land used for construction to curb the unjustified appropriation of farmland. In 2004, the total farmland used for construction purposes decreased by 37 percent from the previous year, achieving an overall balance between use and compensation of farmland. The government has also increased the intensity of land development and treatment, drawn up regulations for managing land development and treatment projects, and organized the implementation of the state-invested land development and treatment projects, so as to maintain an overall dynamic balance in farmland and to improve the eco-environment. In the Tenth Five-Year Plan period, 76,000 ha of land were reclaimed after scientific development and treatment of the land in rural and urban areas, the natural-disaster-damaged land, and the discarded land in industrial and mining areas. A number of new rural areas have emerged with neat layout and sound eco-environment, and the eco-environment of some resources-drained cities and key mining areas has been further improved or restored.
-- Water and soil conservation. The State has organized many special projects to control duststorm sources that threaten the Beijing-Tianjin area, to conserve water and soil for the sustainable use of the water resources in the capital area, to build up silt dams for water and soil conservation on the Loess Plateau, and to prevent and control comprehensively soil erosion in the black earth area in the northeast and in the limestone areas along the Southern and Northern Panjiang rivers on the upper reaches of the Zhujiang River. So far, the key areas of water and soil conservation have been expanded from the upper and middle reaches of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers to the black earth area in the northeast, the upper reaches of the Zhujiang River and the area around Beijing and Tianjin. The construction of national demonstration areas and demonstration projects has resulted in the completion of over 300 water and soil conservation projects each covering over 200 sq km, 190 eco-friendly model counties and 1,398 small demonstration drainage areas in terms of water and soil conservation. The State has also started to build the first group of 62 demonstration areas, each no less than 300 sq km, and over 50 sci-tech demonstration parks for water and soil conservation. Experimental work for water and soil conservation and ecological restoration has been conducted in 188 counties throughout the country, and overall protection has been carried out by closing off hillsides for afforestation in all key areas covered by water and soil conservation projects, putting some 126,000 sq km under such protection. Also, a project for preventing soil erosion is underway in the headwater areas of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers. So far, 980 counties in 25 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government) have wholly or partially closed hills or mountains to livestock grazing, which has hastened the recovery of the vegetation in areas totaling more than 600,000 sq km. During the Tenth Five-Year Plan period, China succeeded in bringing 240,200 sq km of eroded land under comprehensive control of water and soil erosion, improving 11,500 small drainage areas, creating 4.06 million ha of basic farmland, cultivating 15.33 million ha of forests for water and soil conservation, cash fruit and preserving headwaters, building up 7,000 silt dams and 3.5 million small water and soil conservation projects involving silt-blocking dams and slope water works.
-- Sand prevention and control. The Chinese government has made it a strategic principle to prevent land degradation and desertification for the improvement of the eco-environment, for the expansion of the spaces of survival and development, and for coordinated, sustainable socio-economic development. It has promulgated and implemented the Law on Sand Prevention and Control, approved the National Plan for Sand Prevention and Control (2005-2010), and issued the Decision on Further Strengthening the Work of Sand Prevention and Control. It has also organized a number of key relevant projects, achieving a net reduction in the areas suffering from land degradation and desertification. By the end of 2004, the total area of degraded land in China was 2,636,200 sq km, and that of desertified land was 1,739,700 sq km, net decreases of 37,924 sq km and 6,416 sq km, respectively, in a span of five years from 1999. Also, the degrees of land degradation and desertification had been alleviated, with a shrinkage of 245,900 sq km of the seriously and very seriously degraded land, initially curbing the overall expansion of land degradation and desertification.
-- Marine environmental protection. China has formed a basic legal system and an administrative law-enforcement system for marine environmental protection, set up a network for monitoring the marine environment, worked out and implemented marine function zoning and offshore environmental function zoning, so as to ensure the rational exploitation and protection of marine resources, prevent marine pollution and ecological destruction, and promote sustainable development of the ocean economy. The Chinese government has actively implemented a pollution prevention and control plan for the major sea-flowing rivers, and an environmental protection plan for the major sea areas. Following the Bohai Sea program, in 2005 the Chinese government started pollution control work in the sea areas around the estuaries of the Yangtze and Zhujiang rivers, carrying out environment monitoring and investigation in these areas, under overall planning with due consideration for both rivers and oceans, and both land and sea areas. The Chinese government has strictly implemented the administrative system for the examination and approval of oceanic engineering projects and of ocean dumping, intensified law-enforcement supervision over such dumping and strengthened monitoring of the marine environment. The State has approved the Emergency Plan for Red Tide Disasters and the Emergency Plan for Major Oil Spills from Oceanic Petroleum Exploration, and incorporated them into the national disaster emergency control system, thus giving initial shape to a marine disaster emergency control mechanism. The Chinese government has tightened its administration over the prevention and control of pollution from shipping, and the shipment of dangerous materials, and energetically promoted the construction of an emergency system for oil-spills from ships at sea. By the end of 2004, 120 marine nature reserves at different levels had been established in China, and a group of rare marine species placed under proper protection, in particular, important oceanic eco-systems such as coral reefs, mangrove forests and seaweed beds. By means of a series of measures taken to control the intensity of fishing, reduce the number of fishing boats, improve the moratorium system, establish marine sanctuaries, and practice zero growth rate, marine fishery resources have been protected and revived.
-- The construction of nature reserves, protected eco-areas, and places of historical interest and scenic beauty. The Chinese government deems the establishment of nature reserves as an important step to protect the eco-environment. By the end of 2005, there were 2,349 nature reserves of various kinds and levels in China, covering 1.5 million sq km and taking up about 15 percent of the country's land territory; a national nature reserves network with relatively complete types and a relatively rational layout had been initially formed, effectively protecting 85 percent of the land ecosystem types, 85 percent of wildlife species, and 65 percent of the natural plant community in China. Also, the State has started eco-area construction in the areas of river headwaters, and areas important for preserving water sources, river flood storage and buffering, sand fixing with windbreaks, and other ecologically important areas. National-level experimental eco-areas were set up in 18 typical regions, including the areas of the Dongjiang River headwaters, Dongting Lake and the Qinling Mountains. The construction of local eco-areas was also carried out in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, and the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, Gansu and Qinghai. So far, 677 places of historical interest and scenic beauty have been approved by the Chinese government, among which 187 are national-level ones. A group of nature reserves and national-level key places of historical interest and scenic beauty have been inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List, International Man and Biosphere Reserve Network, or List of Wetlands of International Importance. They include Mount Taishan, Mount Huangshan, Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha, Mount Wuyi, Mount Lushan, Wulingyuan Scenic Area, Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic Area, Huanglong Scenic Area, Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Dam, and the Three Parallel Rivers. There are more than 1,900 forest parks of various kinds in China, with 627 national-level ones. China has 85 national geological parks, eight of them having been included in the first group of the World Network of Geoparks: Mount Huangshan in Anhui Province, Mount Lushan in Jiangxi Province, Mount Yuntai in Henan Province, the Stone Forest in Yunnan Province, Mount Danxia in Guangdong Province, Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, the Five Volcanic Chain Lakes in Heilongjiang Province and Mount Songshan in Henan Province.
-- Conservation of biodiversity. China is a country rich in biodiversity. The State has formulated the China Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation, followed by China's Biodiversity: A Country Study and the Plan for the Protection and Utilization of the Resources of Biological Species. At present, there are 250 bases for saving and breeding wildlife, over 400 centers for conserving and cultivating wild plant species or preserving wild plant genes in China, which have artificially produced stable species groups for over 200 kinds of endangered rare animals and about 1,000 types of wild plants. Meanwhile, investigation and collection of key wild plants on the verge of extinction and under state protection have been carried out, and 67 zones have been set up to protect the original habitats of wild agricultural plants. A nationwide investigation has also been carried out on species from abroad, and action has been taken to root out the most harmful and noxious of such species in 100 counties in ten provinces, enhancing the public awareness and people's capacity to guard against the intrusion of foreign species. Among the 189 types of wild plants covered in a national investigation of wild plant resources, 71 percent are up to the standard for stable survival, and 55.7 percent of the 252 kinds of wild animals covered by a national investigation have been shown to be increasing steadily. The numbers of rare and endangered wild animal species, such as the Chinese alligator and red ibis, have increased by wide margins. The number of wild giant pandas has now reached 1,596, and domesticated ones, 183. Some wildlife species have been found in wider areas, and new records, breeding grounds or winter homes of black-beaked gulls and black-faced spoonbills have been constantly discovered. Arborvitae, which was declared by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to be an extremely endangered species after having disappeared in China for over 100 years, has been found in China again.
-- Wetland protection. The Chinese government has promulgated the National Plan for Wetland Protection Action; formulated and implemented the National Program for Wetland Protection Engineering (2002-2030) and the National Implementation Program for Wetland Protection Engineering (2005-2010). So far, China has 473 wetland nature reserves, totaling 43.46 million ha. Almost 45 percent of the natural wetlands included in the country's wetland nature reserves have been protected effectively; and 30 wetlands, including the marshlands of Dongting Lake, Poyang Lake and Zhalong, have been put on the List of Wetlands of International Importance, totaling 3.46 million ha. With the stable expansion of the acreage of some key wetlands, and the recovery and improvement of their ecological functions, the trend toward rapid decrease in the overall area of wetlands has been effectively checked. The protection of urban wetland resources has drawn more attention and been strengthened; and the government has approved the establishment of ten urban wetland parks.